Civil Rights Tour: Education - Browne Junior High, the Fight for School Desegregation

850 26th Street NE

Marguerite Daisy Carr was only 13 years old in 1947 when she found herself at the center of a legal battle over equal education.

Carr’s school, Browne Junior High, had been built in 1932 for 888 students, but by 1941 it held close to twice that number. With class sizes ranging from 50 to 58 students, it was cited as the most overcrowded of the city’s public schools. The School Board responded by splitting students into morning and afternoon shifts; by 1947, as enrollment continued to grow, the board further reduced daily instruction to less than the six hours per day as required by DC law. Staff, parents and students, not only at Browne, but citywide, were outraged by the overcrowding and poor conditions of the city’s Black schools, many of which were housed in aging facilities that were passed down from the system’s white division.

Attorney Leon A. Ransom, former Acting Dean of Howard University Law School, petitioned Superintendent Hobart M. Corning and the School Board to allow Browne students, including Marguerite Carr, to enroll at Eliot Junior High—a nearby, under-enrolled school for white students. When Corning resisted, Ransom filed a legal complaint in October 1947. Marguerite and her father James C. Carr, Sr.—the new PTA president at Browne—became the lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging segregation. 

Rather than allowing black students to attend a white school, the Board responded by annexing two nearby decommissioned white elementary schools to serve the Browne student body. But these outdated, “cast-off” schools lacked gyms, libraries, auditoriums, working cafeterias and even fully functioning restrooms, and required students to move between school buildings across a major road. In response, some 160 parents who would organize themselves as the Consolidated Parent Group announced a boycott on December 3, 1947; over the next three weeks, nearly all of the rest of Browne’s parents joined the strike. After truant officers visited their homes, attorney Charles Hamilton Houston persuaded the group’s leader, Gardner Bishop, to call off the boycott as a precondition for filing another suit on behalf of Bishop’s daughter Judine. Most of the Browne parents sent their children back to school in January. 

In 1950, an appeals court upheld segregation in Carr v. Corning, but Carr’s loss fueled the battle for integrated schools. Rather than fight for quality education under “separate but equal” schools, civil rights lawyers and activists now focused squarely on eliminating segregation altogether—a victory that would be celebrated four years later when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bolling v. Sharpe and Brown v. Board of Education that segregated schools were unconstitutional.